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Stupid Human Tricks

As a Nevada DUI Defense Attorney, I have noticed that one of the first images of DUI enforcement is the picture of a police vehicle stopped at roadside with a motorist out of his own vehicle and moving or walking in some manner dictated by the would be arresting officer. Euphemistically described as "Stupid Human Tricks," with apologies to David Letterman, these roadside gyrations are officially known as the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) and they are taught and validated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as being the be-all/end-all indicators of motorist impairment.

The normal battery of tests consists of the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the Walk and Turn (WAT) test, and the One Leg Stand (OLS) test. In actuality, they are not really tests, nor do they measure sobriety. What they do, however, is give the arresting officer something to talk about.

Consider this: None of these "tests" is used to either receive a Nevada Driver's License or to renew a license. None of these tests measure the skills necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle. Standing on one leg and balancing while cars and semi-trucks whiz by merely tests your nerve and relative fearlessness which, I would argue, are actually not good qualities of a careful driver. Similarly, walking up an imaginary line heel to toe by the side of the highway with your arms down at your side serves no purpose and demonstrates no skill that is translatable to the safe operation of a vehicle.

Yet, despite what seems obvious, these tests are the "gold standard" for sobriety testing.

In days of yore, before SFSTs even existed, officers would do subjective evaluations of drivers to determine whether they were "drunk" or sober. Motorists would stand and try to touch their noses with the tips of their fingers or officers would ask them to pick up some scattered coins from the ground or to trace a picture. The manner of performance of those tasks would, in the officer's opinion, show that the motorist was intoxicated. Today, the officers use the "standardized" line of subjective tests to imply impairment and suggest that a person's blood may measure over the current alcohol limit of 0.08 grams/100 mL of blood. What rubbish!

At least some officers are honest when they admit that despite the motorist's good or bad performance on the field tests, the decision to arrest doesn't depend on the motorist's performance on those tests.

Skip the tests--Nevada law doesn't require you to pretend that you are a gymnast. The only test you are required to take roadside is the preliminary breath test. Repeat after me, "Officer, if I am required to take or perform this test, then I will cooperate. If I am not required under Nevada law to take this test, then I respectfully decline to do so."